Roaming through Rhone

Vineyards in the southern Rhone sunshine. Photo: Getty Images
Vineyards in the southern Rhone sunshine. Photo: Getty Images
Travelling to France this year? Hungry for wine experiences, history and magnificent scenery? May I suggest my favourite French wine region; the southern Rhone and specifically the Vaucluse.

Roughly equidistant from the major cities of Marseilles and Lyon (the latter a gastronomic delight), the administrative hub of Orange is a short drive from wine areas such as Chateauneuf du Pape, Gigondas, Vacqueyras and Rasteau. Friends and I have based ourselves close to the wine village of Gigondas.

Do your research: find a village/small town that appeals, one with a bakery, butchery, bar/pub (essential for morning coffee), grocery store, etc, so you’ll have basic needs sorted close to hand. Accommodation can be found in gites (week long stays in houses or apartments), chambre d’hotes (bed and breakfasts), Airbnb and sometimes, small hotels.

Almost all the local villages have market day each week with larger ones having a staggering array to tempt. Sainte Cecile les Vignes, Vaison le Romaine and Bedoin are three larger ones while there are a wealth of hilltop villages to explore — Seguret, Gordes and Roussillon are "must sees".

Being France, good food is never far from hand. The prix fixe set lunch can be an affordable way to eat well, leaving you the evenings to devour your spoils from the market accompanied by good local wine.

Contrary to earlier comments, many winery cellar doors in this area are open for walk-in visitors, though appointments can be useful as many are small family concerns — you may just find all the family are out tending the vines. An incredibly useful resource is the Caveau de Gigondas, right on the main square of Gigondas, acting as an agent for all the local producers. All the local Gigondas wines are available there for tasting, and for sale at exactly the same price as the cellar door. A fantastic chance to compare styles and vintages, luxuriating in the fragrance, deep fruit, spice and garrigue herbs that typify the wines of the region.

 Don’t forget the whites either, not terribly much seen in New Zealand, but they can offer some delightful flavours.

It makes a fascinating comparison to the village of Chateauneuf du Pape. It reminds me of the streets of Carlton in Melbourne where spruikers are out in force trying to entice you into their restaurant. Chateauneuf is all commerce and the smell of money, constant calls to come into their cave.

One final pointer — this is a part of France that loves rugby, and they love "les All Blacks", so Kiwis are invariably assured of a warm welcome.


2020 Domaine le Clos des Cazaux Gigondas Prestige


Expressive nose, a bowl of mixed fruits, spices, savoury qualities, herbs, fragrance building. Power in the mouth, chewy tannins, licorice, raspberry, red fruits, earthy rusticity in a nice way. Fruit richness and ripeness, a sense of grapes grown in the hot sun, yet closes dry. Fleshes out beautifully while retaining its structure and youthful tautness. Hours later, sumptuous, delightful.


Rating: Excellent to Outstanding

Price: RRP $70-72


2020 Domaine de la Charbonniere Vacqueyras


Fragrant, perfumed nose, red fruits, tilled earth, smoke, herbs, iron/schist later. Supple, almost creamy yet the tannins are there to give this backbone. A sense of energy to this, delightful balance, fruit ripeness yet closing dry with a nicely lip-smackingly chewy quality on the long, long close. Complex, interesting and such a pleasure to enjoy now but will kick on.


Rating: Excellent to Outstanding

Price: RRP $60-62


2020 Domaine du Cayron Gigondas


Heady nose, berry coulis, dark cherry, mint/menthol, anise, bay leaf, perhaps orange zest? In the mouth spices, savouriness, earth, red fruits, plum/prune, blackcurrant, sumptuous fruit wrapped in a corset of tannins. With aeration, gravelly minerals, a chocolately element, an undercurrent of Provencal herbs. Pleasure for sure but the best is yet to come.


Rating: Outstanding

Price: RRP $66-68